Corie Kovach, MD, FACOG, MBA of Amherst, OH
Reference: Marijuana News in Canada, November 09, 2019
Cannabis terpenes: What they are and how they affect you
Different foods have diverse smells. Some smell rich and meaty, while others have herbal notes. But what
do we actually smell in foods or even wines?
The answer is simple: Terpenes!
Terpenes are what you sense in meals, flowers, fruits wines, or in cleaning detergents. They are organic
compounds that give each plant a unique flavor or smell. They are the reason you can tell apart a
pineapple and a coconut. Terpenes are also conveniently present in cannabis flowers.
What are terpenes?
Pronounced as “tur-peens”, these are aromatic metabolites that are found in oils of all plants that exist in
the universe. Given the many plants, the number of terpenes is high. Scientist estimate that 20,000
terpenes exist and 100 of them are produced by the cannabis plant itself. For a long time, plants have
always produced terpenes to attract pollinators or as defense compounds. Terpenes production has
evolved over time.
In the cannabis plant, the female ones produce glandular trichomes. These are glands that resemble
hairs or growths that can be seen protruding from leaves and flowers. They house the plant’s crucial
compounds, including cannabinoids like THC, CBD, terpenes and flavonoids. You only end up with
excellent cannabis with its strong flavors and colors if the plant is handled well to preserve the trichomes.
Terpenes help us to discover cannabis strains which tickle our endocannabinoid system. Their
production in the cannabis plant largely depends on abiotic factors like humidity, temperature, and light
intensity. Because of this, cannabis producers strive to standardize the growing conditions in their effects
to produce consistent quality.
Terpenes or terpenoids?
These two compounds come from the same family. Terpenes are found in the cannabis plant and are
transformed by the drying and curing methods of cannabis. Terpenoids are used outside of the plant. For
instance, they are used to create essential oils, spices or even perfumes. Research shows that
terpenoids are responsible for producing the medicinal effects of cannabinoids.
If you’re looking to buy a cannabis strain, you can narrow down your search as follows:
● How do you want to feel? (For example, choosing a Sativa vs Indica)
● How do you want a psychotropic high or a relaxing, non-psychoactive high? THC or CBD?
● Your desired flavors?
The above questions help you choose on what you enjoy and what your body responds to. The way a
wine lover can tell apart a Chardonnay from a Chilean Merlot is the same way a cannabis connoisseur
chooses their strain. Before the age of research on cannabis and terpenes, most people only looked at
the characteristics and effects of sativas and indicas to pick their strains. Research shows that terpenes
influence the flavor of the bud.
Terpenes and the entourage effect
According to several studies, terpenes help with fast absorption of THC and CBD in the bloodstream. This
means that the way you feel the effects of a given strain is based on the specific terpenes present.
Terpenes are also known to have medicinal effects. Other than giving you the taste and flavor, they also
chill out or amp up the dominant effects of other cannabinoids in what is referred to as the entourage
In this phenomenon, compounds work together to enhance or dampen the end effects. That is why you
notice stronger effects when cannabinoids and terpenes work together. In case they counterbalance each
other, the effects are muted.
Using the entourage effect, cannabis producers are able to create super strains that create the best
experience for many patients. For instance, they can tweak the THC “high” and tamper it with the anti-
anxiety properties of a given terpene or even double the anti-depressant properties of a strain rich in
It’s worth noting that research is ongoing and more ways of manipulating terpenes are still coming up.
For instance, Myrcene, a terpene known for lowering the blood-to-brain resistance, speeds up the effects
of cannabinoids. This means that if this terpene is present in a strain rich in THC, it lessens the time
between cannabis consumption and the kicking in of psychotropic after effects.
How terpenes work in the body
As mentioned earlier, terpenes play their own roles and have their effects. They inhibit serotonin
reuptake and increase dopamine. In all, they act as an anti-depressant, regulate our emotions, and relax
our bodies. Additional research should be carried out to show the therapeutic effects of terpenes and
cannabinoids. As it stands, most people accept that terpenes amp up or dampen the effects of THC or
CBD as they bind endocannabinoid receptors and neurotransmitters. This essentially imitates
compounds that are produced by our bodies to control emotions, health, weight, etc.
The FDA recognizes terpenes as a safe substance. They must really because if they were to outlaw
terpenes, they might as well consider outlawing tomatoes because they also have terpenes. Cannabis
producers, enthusiasts, and scientists are tailor-making strains to balance the negative effects of
cannabinoids, including using pinene to balance short-term memory loss brought about by concentrations
Examples of terpenes found in cannabis:
This is the most common terpene globally and it is known for its inflammatory properties and counters
short-term memory loss. Pinene also improves airflow to the lungs. It is basically found in parsley, basil,
pine needles, and orange peels.
It’s typically found in the cannabis plant, although it can be found in other plants such as mangoes,
thyme, basil, lemongrass, and hops. In the cannabis plant, 50% of terpenes are myrcene terpenes. This
terpene has lots of uses as an anti-inflammatory, a muscle relaxer, and a sedative. Indica strains have
lots of myrcene, and this explains their stoned effects.
This one smells of lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits. It is usually used to make cleaning detergents
or perfumes due to its citrus scent. It elevates your mood, relieves stress and harbors anti-bacterial
properties. Limonene enhances intake of other chemicals through the skin and this basically means that
it can be an ideal choice for making tinctures and ointments.
It has an earthy, hoppy scent. It is also an anti-inflammatory and suppresses appetite. Humulene can be
found in Coriander, hops, cloves and basil.
Mostly found in a myriad of flowers and spices, most notably coriander and lavender. It is a stress
reliever and an anti-inflammatory terpene. It cancels out the anxious side effects of THC and is a good
treatment for psychosis and anxiety.
It is known for its peppery and spicy scent. According to scientists, it can treat anxiety and depression
while still acting as an inflammatory agent. It is found in Thai basils, cinnamon, black pepper and cloves.
This has anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties and is a slightly sedative. It is mainly extracted from
Rosemary and sage plants. This compound has a woodsy and smoky flavor. Given its properties, it can
be easily used to depress the nervous system and to reduce anxiety.
Flavonoids vs Terpenes
The flavonoids name doesn’t have anything to do with flavors. Flavonoids are nutrients that give color to
living things. According to scientists, flavonoids are among the largest of the nutrient families, with over
6000 members. The cannabis plant hosts around 20 of these. Other than giving color to living things,
flavonoids have their own health benefits. They are known to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory
properties. However, not much information exists about the suitability of flavonoids for cannabis
treatment. As such, more research needs to be conducted on flavonoids. On the contrary for terpenes,
lots of research has already been carried out, which is the reason terpenes are gaining traction in
Cooking with cannabis terpenes
When it comes to cooking with cannabis terpenes, attention to detail is everything. You need to pair your
ingredients well to get the intended smells, tastes and textures. You will also need to monitor the cooking
temperatures as high temperatures can actually destroy terpenes.
To be on the safe side, add your cannabis towards the end of your cooking to avoid burning the terpenes.
The rule of thumb is to cook at less than 100 degrees Celsius. If you choose to vape, drink, or eat a
cannabis cookie alongside your meal, it is recommended that you select the flowers similar to your meal
for that seamless experience. The beauty about vapes is that you get to absorb terpenes without running
the risk of burning them. What’s more, you can control their flavors by tweaking the temperatures.
The different flavors of terpenes should guide you in your cooking. For instance, if you’re preparing a
lemon salmon dish, it’s advisable you look for terpenes limonene to complement the smell. Fortunately,
licensed producers can recommend strains with high levels of terpenes to simplify your cooking
experience. At the end of the day, it boils down to you. How do you want terpenes in your food?
Importantly, it’s good to remember that consuming cannabis with high THC can enhance the food pairings
that you create.